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Ritalin is a fun drug. That’s why it’s crazy to be handing it out to millions of kids

16 March 2015

10:20 AM

16 March 2015

10:20 AM

The weekend brought yet another warning by an American website about Ritalin. Addiction.org wants people to know about the dangers of the ‘abuse’ of the drug when it’s taken OTHER THAN PRESCRIBED. The capital letters are theirs – but the quote marks around ‘abuse’ are mine because I think the distinction between using and abusing Ritalin is somewhat artificial. As, indeed, is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the condition for which an estimated two million children in the US receive the drug – named, I kid you not, after ‘Rita’, the wife of the chemist who concocted it.

As the hilarious 1960s ad above suggests, Ritalin – the original trade name for methylphenidate, which gives you a nice fat squirt of dopamine – was originally marketed to bored housewives. The message: it makes peeling potatoes fun by helping you concentrate on the task. I can’t vouch for that, as I’ve never peeled spuds under its influence. I have, however, checked several hundred academic references for an academic book published by OUP while high on Ritalin. A task that I’d been dreading turned out to be GRIPPING. (The book was by me, by the way, and it’s an engrossing read – so long as you’ve got a ready supply of methylphenidate to hand.)

I won’t trouble you with the details of how and why I came to be taking Ritalin, though I can reveal that I was in Los Angeles at the time. And LA is not a million miles away from Rosario Beach, Mexico, where – certainly a few years ago – an astonishing number of holidaymakers needed to pay urgent visits to the resort’s open-minded pharmacies.


Medical orthodoxy tells us that methylphenidate makes hyperactive people feel ‘normal’, but normal people who take it get an ‘addictive’ kick out of it. Hmm. Take a look at the Wikipedia entry for ADHD, which reveals that this ‘condition’ has changed its name and/or diagnostic criteria every time they’ve revised the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Currently, it’s agreed that a child with ADHD may:

• Be easily distracted, miss details, forget things, and frequently switch from one activity to another
• Have difficulty maintaining focus on one task
• Become bored with a task after only a few minutes, unless doing something enjoyable
• Have trouble completing or turning in homework assignments, often losing things (e.g., pencils, toys, assignments) needed to complete tasks or activities
• Not seem to listen when spoken to
• Daydream
• Struggle to follow instructions

I don’t know about you, but I ticked every single one of those boxes when I was a child, and then some. I must have had ADHD. Yet I must also have grown out of it, because when I tried it as an adult I became quite deliciously high – which is a sure sign that you’re ‘abusing’ the drug.

I guess we must just leave it up to the doctors to know the difference between children suffering from ADHD (or whatever it’s called at the time) and their lucky attention-rich schoolfriends. And try not to worry about a study reported in Scientific American:

Clearer, but less dramatic, evidence for overdiagnosis comes from a 2012 study in which psychologist Katrin Bruchmüller of the University of Basel and her colleagues found that when given hypothetical vignettes of children who fell short of the DSM-IV diagnosis, about 17 percent of the 1,000 mental health professionals surveyed mistakenly diagnosed the kids with ADHD. These errors were especially frequent for boys, perhaps because boys more often fit clinicians’ stereotypes of ADHD children.

OK, enough sarcasm from me. Here’s a simple proposition. If junkies are falling over each other to get hold of a drug prescribed to millions of children because it’s so much fun to take, then maybe the medical profession should think twice about prescribing it in the first place.Not with the scale of D&G’s  spending. That’s the one thing fashion does respect. 

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